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The year was 2001, just after the new millennium. Under new management (Nuclear Blast), Grave Digger exploded into the new millennium with all barrels firing. Armed to the teeth with a new guitarist, a heavier music tone, and a return the their older, darker themes, Grave Digger unleashed upon unready mortal masses their ninth studio album: "The Grave Digger". It is one of the best heavy metal albums of the past decade, simply put.
Armed in a rich production that perfectly balances the heaviness with a tense, dark atmosphere, all the members let their talents run wild on "The Grave Digger". Chris Boltendahl utilizes his rough, distinctly German growling and howling into both his usual aggression as well as a more toned-down version to go well with the album's feel. Replacing the talented Uwe Lulis is the equally talented Manni Schmidt. His guitar work is stupendous, and while his solo stuff doesn't do quite as much for me as Lulis's did, I find his overall riff-making is at least a few notches up and then some. Continuing on board is former Running Wild bassist Jens Becker; his bass isn't 100% noticeable, often buried by the drums and guitar, but the thickness adds well to the songs and the guy gets more than a fair share of moments to show off his solid skills. Longtime drummer Stefan Arnold is quite a treat, his skin-thumping hard, precise, and often pretty vicious; annoyingly his kick-drumming, which may or may not be fake/processed, is amplified in the mix, which gets on my nerves a bit because I find it to be a lazy and cheap way to make a song sound faster or more aggressive and in the process, less natural. Rounding out the group is Mr. HP Katzenberg on the keyboards, his work solidly and melodically weaving in out and through a number of songs, adding further to the atmosphere and quality.
The 12 songs on "The Grave Digger" (including bonus track "Black Cat") are all pretty much heavy metal perfection. Nothing is warrants skipping, all warrant a thousand listens. The album starts unassumingly with "Son of Evil", with its piano intro before exploding into the album's formula of perfection: big riffs, bigger choruses and scorching solos. Then the title track explodes forth with skull-splitting speed riffs and a punchy, catchy chorus. We mustn't forget the mid-paced crushers as well. "Scythe of Time" is one of the best, pounding along with another nifty chorus and a speedier, scorching solo. The incredible "The House" kills with its immense, memorable main riff and another grand solo, this one more mood-based and bass-driven. I even like the ballad "Silence"; it's a bit slow and simple yeah, but it strikes me and beautiful and emotional all the same, perfectly exemplifying the albums' overall sense of atmosphere. Going back to the speed metal tunes, we have two highlights: "Raven" and "Spirits of the Dead". "Raven" has one of the best choruses of any metal song EVER! EVVVVVEEERRRRR!!! Obey and worship the chorus of "Raven"! "Look into the eye of this evil toy, fly with the raven. Seek and destroy!" "Spirits of the Dead" pumps along with a heavy as fuck main riff, as well as its own fantastic and memorable chorus.
Overall, this Edgar Allen Poe-inspired album is as much a masterpiece as any of his own works. The atmosphere is wondrously evil and memorable, the band's work is impeccable, and each and every song is incredible, all with their own merits. Spirits of the dead are calling...they want you to get a hold of "The Grave Digger" now!